Skip to Content


GAA Legend and Leading Academic in Public Health awarded honorary doctorates by Queen’s University

One of Northern Ireland’s greatest sports stars, Sean O’Neill, and Professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Professor Martin McKee, will today (Tuesday 2 July) be awarded Honorary Doctorates.

Sean O’Neill will be awarded a Doctor of the University (DUni) for Distinction in sport.

The accolade recognises an outstanding sporting career for the former GAA player and coach, who has played at the highest levels of Gaelic Football and won three All Ireland medals with County Down; eight Interprovincial titles with Ulster; and two Sigerson Cup titles with Queen's University Belfast.

Originally from Newry, County Down, O’Neill’s sports career started as a young boy at the Abbey CBS Grammar School in Newry and won two U15’s and one U17’s college medals. He played with the John Mitchel GFC in his hometown throughout his youth and went on to win four Down Senior club titles. The left-wing forward was a key figure in County Down winning the Sam Maguire on three occasions in the 1960s.

O’Neill was in charge of the County Down team that won the Ulster and All-Ireland U18 championship in 1977, and he went on to coach the Queen's University Belfast senior football team in the early 1980s, winning the Sigerson cup in 1982 and the Ryan cup in 1984 and 1985.

He was honoured with GAA All Stars awards in 1971 and 1972. O’Neill was selected for the GAA Team of the Century in 1984, the GAA Team of the Millennium in 2000, and named on the Sigerson Cup Team of the Century in 2001.

O’Neill was a student at Queen’s University Belfast between 1957-61 when he studied law. He is a solicitor-retired by profession and is married to Breege with four sons Christopher, Shane, Barry and Ryan.

Speaking ahead of receiving his honorary degree, O’Neill said: “It is a privilege to receive an honorary degree from Queen’s University Belfast.  The University has been a big part of my life for a number of years. As a past student and former Queen’s GAA senior team coach, I feel honoured to be recognised in this way by this great institution which is very special to me.”

Professor Martin McKee will receive a Doctor of Medical Science (DMedSc) for Distinction in medicine and science.

After graduating from Queen’s University Belfast in 1979, Martin trained in public health and is now a world authority on health and health policy, especially in countries undergoing major political and economic change.

He has been elected to the UK Academy of Medical Sciences, the US National Academy of Medicine, and Academia Europaea. Martin is Past President of the European Public Health Association and Research Director of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies. He is on the International Advisory Board of the UKCRC Centre of Excellence for Public Health (NI).

In 2005, Martin received a CBE for services to healthcare in Europe.

Looking ahead to his honorary graduation ceremony, Professor McKee commented: “I am delighted to have been recognised in this way by my alma mater. Queen’s University Belfast is a world-class institution whose impact and research extends far beyond Belfast and Northern Ireland.”

Sean O’Neill and Professor Martin McKee are among fourteen individuals to receive honorary degrees this summer at Queen’s University Belfast. Other individuals awarded included internationally renowned researchers as well as leaders in business and commerce.

Queen's awards honorary degrees to individuals who have achieved high distinction or given significant service in one or more fields of public or professional life, and who serve as ambassadors for the University and Northern Ireland around the world.


For media inquiries, please contact the Communications Office, 028 9097 3091